Books that explain California

Here are the new entries and some of what readers have shared about them, lightly edited:

“The Last Days of the Late Great State of California” by Curt Gentry (1968)

“The novel opens with a description of a massive earthquake on the San Andreas Fault that threatens to tear the westernmost part of California apart from the Pacific Ocean. This catastrophic event is the basis for a review of the major events in the political and social history of the Golden State. Ronald Reagan’s campaign for governor in 1966 and the Watts riots of 1965 are detailed. The epilogue lays out what the rest of the world would do without, including the significant amount of food produced by California’s important agricultural industry. It’s a fun history lesson that weaves its way into the story of something we Californians often ponder: Will the Big One push our coastal cities into the ocean?” — Allison Wonder, San Ramon

Over There by Tommy Orange (2018)

“Orange’s novel ‘Tamo Tamo’ is a story unlike any I have read. With 12 main characters, all of whom shine in their own right without feeling rushed or incomplete, their paths cross at the Oakland Powwow. This book is a master lesson in storytelling and provides a unique perspective on the urban Indian experience.” — Jennifer Nunez, San Jose

“Palo Alto” by Malcolm Harris (2023)

“I grew up in the Santa Clara Valley in the 50s and 60s and had a very simple and idyllic impression of the contribution the valley made to society – ie. Hewlett-Packard and other early technological innovators. The author eerily brings us to the present time and all the terrifying outcomes of earlier, relatively simple days. The book is long, but worth reading.” — Hester Lyons, Brooklyn, NY

“Bending to Bethlehem” by Joan Didion (1968)

“The middle section, her report from Haight-Ashbury in the ’60s, seems much more honest and curious than the usual rose-tinted boomer reminiscing about the period. Her writing makes me nostalgic for places I’ve never been, like the hot, strange Sacrament of her youth.” — David Burris, Los Angeles

“Up and Down California in 1860-1864” by William Henry Brewer (1930)

“This is an entertaining, readable journal describing conditions in the state in its infancy, written during Brewer’s tenure as a distinguished, field member of the California Geological Survey. His description of the Great Flood of 1862 is significant, foreshadowing the potential disaster for Californians today.” — Jeff Stone, Yreka

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